Is there a real lack of perspective these days, or is it just that the internet has provided an outlet for people who never had it? Before the first Test, some people were talking up Vernon Philander as being the main threat to England’s batsmen and after the first day, others felt Dale Steyn had become mediocre.
Philander’s a fine bowler, but to get all het up about his bowling average was to ignore the fact that he had only bowled in South Africa and New Zealand – two of the more seam-friendly nations. His Test achievements are striking, but they don’t begin to make a case for superiority over Steyn. Steyn is the best fast bowler around because he is the best fast bowler overall.
Philander is probably more accurate, but Steyn is still pretty tidy. Shaun Tait is faster, but Steyn is fast enough and he’s a damn sight quicker than Tait after eight overs, never mind after 20. James Anderson is probably more skilful, but Steyn still swings the ball. Basically, he is up there with the best no matter what fast bowling quality you look at.
He’s athletic. He has great cardiovascular fitness. He’s aggressive. He bowls swing and seam and a mean bouncer. He has a fair idea how to size up a pitch and he can identify batsmen’s weaknesses. His bad days aren’t too bad and his good days are exceptional.
We know all of this, because we’ve seen him take hundreds of Test wickets. To suggest that Philander’s somehow more of a threat because he’s dobbled the shit out of the opposition in two home series and one in New Zealand is demented. What’s his average in India? We don’t know. Steyn’s is 20.
When it comes to meticulous planning, individual excellence and the most admirable examples of team spirit, the cyclists seem to have cornered the market here in Britain. The cricket team has rather folded.
Can no side merely lose a Test match any more? Nowadays, when good teams fall, it always seems to be an innings defeat. India and Australia have both been on the receiving end against England in recent years and now England have been given a chance to feel the same pain after South Africa positively annihilated them at The Oval. Told you they shouldn’t have played in London.
Why are innings defeats for seemingly decent sides becoming so common? Are preparations so specifically targeted that anything outside what’s been predicted results in implosion? Does extreme dominance breed equally extreme complacency? Why should that be any more true now than in the past? It’s baffling.
Maybe it’s a matter of peaking. There are so many different competitions, no side can hope to be at its best for all of them. India peaked for the World Cup. England peaked for India. South Africa have peaked for England.
England should have peaked for South Africa as well, of course. Maybe they have, in which case three Tests will actually be plenty, thank you very much. Or maybe they tried to, but have had some of their focus sapped and their edge dulled by the one-dayers against Australia.
Reasons and excuses. It’s more salient to wonder whether they can address this in time for the second Test. We don’t believe in momentum in cricket, so we aren’t saying it can’t happen. However, we do believe in one cricket team being better than another and in just one Test match we have been provided with quite a lot of evidence that says England won’t win this series.
Hello South Africa and welcome to England. This is Alastair Cook. He is fitter than you are. We’re not sure you’re going to get on very well.
Thus far, South Africa have had a fairly typical experience of touring England. It has rained and Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott have batted for bloody ages. The Saffers took an early wicket, but you need at least two against England to really be in business.
If you want to win Tests in England, you’re heavily reliant on your seam bowlers but bowling at Cook and Trott is like attacking an industrial sander with a plank of wood. You jab at it again and again and eventually all you’re left with is a nub. Then Kevin Pietersen walks to the crease and surveys you with disdain. It’s not a complex tactic.
Cook’s extraordinary stamina has one purpose. He has developed it so that he can do what he already does only for slightly longer. That’s it. He doesn’t want to run marathons or anything. He just wants to ensure that his feet move the same at 6pm as they do at midday. It seems to work.
If we have a word of reassurance for South Africa, it’s that England are so heavily reliant on this method that Plan B is a good deal worse. The batting line-up is built on the principle that the top three will grind down the opposition bowlers to some degree. Get through the the top order and you introduce the other batsmen to a terrifying land of pace and movement that they are largely unfamiliar with.
But today? 267-3 isn’t really doing the job. And don’t pin your hopes on weariness from Cook tomorrow either.
There seem to be a lot of head to head type previews of this series. We never really get much out of them, because cricket doesn’t really work on a points system. There are no judges comparing the two teams’ attributes. You decide which side’s the better by pitting them against each other. That’s kind of the point of the exercise.
For example, the ‘key’ Anderson v Steyn battle is a nonsense. It’s Anderson v South Africa’s batsmen and Steyn v England’s. There are stacks of variables involved. You can’t really compare the two players easily even after the series has finished.
There’s also the fact that all pre-series analysis is based on what players have done in the past, but no-one remains the same. We know that’s kind of the point of previews – to make use of the information available and look for trends – but we’re just a bit tired of everyone acting like they can predict the future.
It’s just an irritating competition these days. With social networking and proliferating media outlets, it seems there are now hundreds if not thousands of people throwing their prognostications out there. Some of them will be right and they’ll gloat and claim points in the game of being a superior human being who knows how the world works.
Yes, we’re railing against something entirely inconsequential and exhibiting more than a hint of hypocrisy in the process. What have you done with your day?
When someone retires, people are generally supposed to focus on that person’s attributes and this has been particularly true for Mark Boucher after his career was ended by a horrendous incident where a bail cut his eyeball. However, here at King Cricket we don’t have all that much lyrical waxation for Mark.
It’s not that we don’t like him or don’t rate him, because we do. It’s just that from our perspective his career has been characterised by low-key solidity and visible effort. We found him worthy and committed, but not especially eye-catching at any one moment.
We remember him best for the lesson he taught us about English wicketkeepers. His first tour to England was in 1998 and his wicketkeeping was bloody awful. It occurred to us afterwards that if he’d had to play half his matches in England, he’d have been dropped very early on in his career. This is a man who ended up with 999 international dismissals, so maybe we judge English wicketkeepers too harshly in what are trying conditions.
As a batsman, he was reasonable, but with the priceless quality of always appearing to be doing his absolute best. Having people like that in the opposition gives a match integrity and status. That is vital for spectators, so thanks for that Mark, and we do hope you recover okay.
We’ll give them one thing: they got into the middle. That’s no mean feat this summer.
Other than that, things were as rosy as wet cardboard. They conceded 312-8 against Somerset, despite dismissing Nick Compton for a duck. (His presence might have slowed the run rate a tad, actually). They also lost Mark Boucher who got a bail in the eye and is currently undergoing surgery.
We spoke to Paul Downton once. He had to retire from cricket after being hit in the eye by a bail. We’ve always felt that’s a pretty horrible way to end your career. We didn’t speak to him about that though. We spoke to him about posh boys retiring from cricket for no real reason other than to go and have a career in “business”.
So if we do have an insight to give you regarding this, it’s that Paul Downton’s a nice bloke. Also, they seem to have stopped selling ‘ham trim’ in Tesco, which is a bit of a blow.
That’s the big news today. Cricinfo have revealed that 35-year-old Mark Boucher is thinking about maybe stopping playing. Possibly even fairly soon.
“I would like to go England and then start a process of trying to get another keeper involved.”
He didn’t even include a ‘maybe’.
“After England I will probably look at my career and my retirement.”
But he did use a ‘probably’.
The good news for England is that Boucher seems to be planning on going out on a low.
“If it’s my time to go then it’s my time to go. If I’m not performing then I’m not performing.”
Jacques Kallis bowled a ball at about 90mph today. Generally speaking, he was bowling faster than Philander, Steyn and Morkel.
Despite looking more like a rugby player, Kallis has always been pretty slippery when the mood’s taken him. It’s astonishing that he can still do this when he’s 36-years-old. Few can do it at all at that age, let alone those who’ve played 400-and-odd international matches.
The average quick bowler covers about 15 miles a day during a Test match. Even the wicketkeeper averages about 10. Kallis doesn’t clock too many overs, but he does bat a bit. In fact, wait a minute – didn’t he hit 224 earlier in this match?
Maybe his new hair is impregnated with nandrolone. You thought it was vanity that led to his new mane, but it was actually a desire for an intrafollicular supply of anabolic steroids.
Other than Angus Fraser, few bowlers have appeared to do it as penance.
Many people’s definition of an all-rounder is that they should average more with the bat than they do with the ball. Vernon Philander isn’t a million miles away from that and his batting average is only 7.75.
His bowling average is 12.82 at the time of writing. Being as the website’s barely working at the minute, that figure will be totally wrong by the time you read this, but still, you get what we’re saying.
If you don’t get what we’re saying, we’re saying that Vernon Philander has a very low bowling average.
A few Tests away from home will see his figures fatten up like a family that’s just moved to the United States, but for now he can feel pretty pleased with himself and South Africa can stick with their entirely unexpected plan of having Dale Steyn as a supporting act.
The Test world is a baffling place right now. There’s more uncertainty than when the cat finds himself equidistant from some food and an open door.
Australia are worse at home than they used to be, but India are worse away than they have been in recent times, so what does an Australian win mean?
India’s batsmen collapsed. Are they old? Are Australia’s young bowlers really good? Or did the pitch deteriorate? After all, Australia collapsed too. Then again, they often do at the minute, most notably against South Africa – although that’s hardly surprising because the Saffers have such a strong pace attack.
Or do they? Pitches there have been greener than a seasick parrot in recent times, but the bowlers haven’t outdone their opposite numbers. South Africa drew 1-1 with Australia and are currently 1-1 with Sri Lanka as well. Maybe it’s the batting that’s letting them down. Maybe it isn’t.
Sri Lanka themselves were comfortably beaten by Pakistan. Most people concluded that Sri Lanka were struggling, but maybe Pakistan are amazing.
The good news is that Sri Lanka play another Test in South Africa, while India will play three more Tests in Australia, which should help clarify some of this.
That bloody two-Test series between South Africa and Australia is where all this uncertainty came from. It raised questions and answered none. In cat terms, it added a comfy bed to the food-and-open-door situation, leaving us in a pain-faced, miaowing, triangular limbo.